Category: Writing

People watching

When you’re building a story, don’t hesitate to populate it with people you’ve seen. In fact, I encourage writers to carry a notebook wherever they go. I do…usually…I forgot it today. That’s part of why I’m writing this post; I want to remember her.

There’s a woman in the coffee shop, sitting on the opposite side of the store, and there’s something about her that inspires questions. I’ve watched her look at every female customer that’s come into the shop, and it isn’t a gentle glance. I think she’s sizing them up.

Why is she doing it?

That’s the first question I’d answer in order to start building a character. There’s a wealth of material right there. I’ll show you.

She evaluates the other women because she’s vain. It is important to her that she’s the most desirable person here. Why? Someone in her past addicted her to that feeling, whether by constant praise, or frequent humiliation.

Because I write stories that are often dark, this woman might have more to her than these things. She’s not just sizing them up for looks, but for how easy they’d be to feed on. This person is a vampire who only preys on women.

That’s a whole story that arose from observing another person’s behavior! I didn’t even touch on what she looks like, or the sound of her voice. Let’s look at those things.

She’s wearing a middle-green sundress, with a sheer bra (or none at all, based on…what can be seen) and visible panty lines. Her shoes are brown, leather, strappy sandals. The dress has a bow in the back to further define the waistline. A necklace, thin gold chain, with a tiny pendant that matches her earrings.

Her hair color is what I call “fried chicken,” a shade between brunette and blonde. He eye color looks hazel.

Her body is interesting, a long torso. If she were two inches shorter, and even thinner than she is, I’d call her a waif.

At a guess, I think she’s 30 or younger, but not any younger than 26.

She’s spoken to the man she’s with a couple of times, and her accent isn’t typical Northern Virginia.

Oh, she just snapped at the man. There’s a temper in there!

Back to her voice, she almost sounds European, but not so much that I’d lay a bet on it. Maybe Canadian. Failing that, she could be from New England, but there’s nothing that would give me an idea on location.

Here’s the point I’d like to make: there is a whole book in any person you see. Observation and creativity are the best tools in a writer’s shed.

Art and writing

I did a great interview with this crazy man, Jeff Brown, and he got me thinking about the place where writing and fine art dovetail. You’ve seen me do it on occasion, when I’ve posted little paintings and sketches of things or characters, but I’ve barely considered WHY until now.

Sometimes, I need to have an image, or words, or a picture in my head to understand how I feel about something. Sketching a character tells me something about who I’m hoping he’ll be. Doodling a villain does pretty much the same thing.

I wanted to show you a great example of this in action as I develop a new idea.

The working title of this project used to be “Fluid Exchange,” but I was having real trouble trying to find a geographic setting that would meet my needs. Thanks to a friend in NYC, the location was settled. There’s an area of Staten Island called “Great Kills,” and that is so perfect for the book, I have to use it…but, how do I feel about it? What does that name add to the plot and tone?

I had to draw those words and see…a little obsessively. There are other sheets of paper laying around, trust me.

Great Kills sketches
Great Kills sketches

If you’re a movie buff, artist, or graphic designer, you might know where the style I’m trying to mimic comes from. If you’re a beer drinker, take a look at Flying Dog’s branding and labels. Familiar, isn’t it?

This is as close as I can get to the lettering of Ralph Steadman. I idolize him a little.

The words (in this style) are brutal, raw, and precisely what I need to help me sense the atmosphere I want to create. I can SEE this. More than that, I felt it while I used the brush to draw the letters. The action felt violent and dirty. Perfect!

Of course, there’s an added benefit to doing something like this: it might help a designer (whether it is me or someone else) create cover art that accurately reflects the manuscript.


Now, go out there and buy a copy of “Manleigh Cheese!”

Progress on the second “Manleigh Cheese” manuscript, and writing in general

I’m at just shy of 25k words. That’s 1/4 of my goal, and the point where things start to feel challenging.

I tend to be heavy on dialog, and light on description. It is something I go back and forth about wanting to change. To me, and you probably know this already, the characters are more important than their surroundings. Dialog tells you who they are, what’s important to them, and how they “think.”

Not to say that environment, time of day, day of the week, and so on, aren’t important! I just find them harder to deal with. MC2 is an opportunity to work on these things. I’ve actually written what I want to happen, and on what day of the week, in order. From here, it looks like it will help a bit.

I can see one hurdle coming, I need to make the timeline jump about two weeks into the future without much going on in between. The thing that bothers me about the gap is creating a reason for a pause in the action. Why is Three Ravens not proceeding with his plan? Why is Xisha not pursuing her goals, or is she just hanging out? How is the business doing?

When you’re writing, and trying to do it well, you have to limit filler that has no relation to the story line. Here’s an example from Manleigh Cheese and how it relates to MC2.

Bap and Shona will probably get engaged in #2, or early in #3 . Exploring that arc needs to fit into the broader story. But how? Sure, it will impact the members of the coven, and Murra, but what does that do to everything else?

Now, without revealing too much, Bap does play an important role in #2, due to his profession. I decided he’s a desk geek at the CIA. Consequently, he’s a window into what is going on with how the government is keeping an eye on everyone. What happens with his character is functional.

I haven’t explored how much he’ll do, but it does answer my question. Nothing he does, by virtue of his relationships, fails to involve them.

Tracking character arcs and developments is difficult when you have a bunch of active personalities. This is probably why I have notebooks full of scribbles, arrows, and comments in the margins.

Heh. This update is a little longer than I expected.